5 things for Tuesday, March 21: FBI chief, Brexit, electronics ban

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1. Politics

With a swift one-two punch, FBI Director James Comey put a big cloud over the Trump White House that could hang around for a while. First he confirmed at a House hearing that the FBI is looking into alleged collusion between President Trump’s campaign aides and Russia during the 2016 election. Then he shot down Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that President Obama had ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower, a stinging rebuke of a sitting president. Republicans at the hearing reacted to this with sudden outrage about leaks, while the White House suggested we all move along — nothing to see here.

2. Brexit

Save the date. The divorce proceedings between the European Union and the UK will officially begin on March 29. That’s when UK Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 — the mechanism that lets a country leave the EU. And like most divorces, this one won’t be pretty. There are lots of difficult negotiations ahead — most to do with trade and immigration — as the UK and EU prepare for their post-Brexit relationship. The breakup is due to take about two years.

3. Travel ban

There’s a new travel ban, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of. This one bans electronics — not people — in the cabin on flights from some countries in the Middle East and Africa to the US. One US official says this may have something to do with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been trying to build bombs that contain little or no metal in order to take down a plane.

4. Health care

The GOP’s alternative to Obamacare comes up Thursday for a vote in the House, and it’s not looking good. Some conservatives dubbed the bill “Obamacare Lite,” so changes were made to woo them: states would be stopped immediately from expanding Medicaid, older Americans would get more tax credits. It didn’t work. House GOP leaders still don’t have the 216 votes needed to pass the bill. Things aren’t looking so hot in the Senate either. A group of GOP senators came out of a meeting about changes to the bill visibly frustrated. President Trump will try to rally the troops this morning.

5. Supreme Court

Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, spoke of love for country and his fellow judges as he tried to spread a message of unity at his confirmation hearing. Democrats weren’t having it. They’re still upset that the GOP last year snubbed Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee. An “extraordinary blockade” is how Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy put it. We won, so get over it, was GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s reply. The sobering fact is that the Dems are pretty much powerless to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation. They could filibuster, but that would probably push GOP leaders to invoke the “nuclear option,” meaning they’d change Senate rules to get rid of the filibuster and let Gorsuch get confirmed with 51 votes.

We mapped 33 incidents from January 1 to March 20 in which mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson. (During the same time period in 2016, there were just 17 such incidents.)


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